Firstly I’d like to say thank you to the Wessex League for kindly providing me with the attendance tables to enable me to do these charts and analysis. I’ve been quite keen to do this for a while as I know that quite a lot of people have an interest in the Wessex League and you never know a few may be interested in attendances too!
All the figures are up to date as far as last Saturday, the 21st February
Looking at the basic averages the top three slots are occupied by Winchester City with an average attendance of 152, Newport Isle of Wight on 120 and Andover Town with 114. Just behind them, in fourth place – and the final member of the over 100 club – is AFC Portchester on 103.
In many ways it is unsurprising to see Winchester at the top. Winchester is the largest settlement where a Wessex League side is the top team, with a population of 116,000 according to the 2011 Census.
Similarly Newport, though smaller, enjoys a status as the biggest team on the whole island. Both Newport and Winchester have also played at a higher level and although both have had their troubles they are at present doing well in the league which is likely to be another factor behind their ability to pull in the crowds.
Comparison with last season
Thanks to a broken laptop I have lost the set of complete data for last year’s attendances, but I do know that when I last looked at Wessex League attendances, back in October 2014, Winchester were averaging 169, Newport 134 AFC Portchester 109. All three are down slightly on last year, something which I will put down to the promotion of Sholing. Arguably this has been (in attendance terms) both bad for the league, and bad for Sholing, who up to last October averaged 168 in the Wessex League, but are currently averaging 127 in the Southern League South and West Division.
One of my favourite features of the Wessex league is the local derby games. Last Season I visited Sholing for the derby against Follands Sports who had quite literally travelled just round the road. With a lot of Follands supporters present the atmosphere in the ground was good and Sholing enjoyed a good gate.
The attendance stats clearly suggest that proximity plays a big role in determining match day attendances. Looking at the main derby for each club I’ve compiled a list. As a caveat some games are yet to be played, but it shows that at present the core derby action is concentrated around Winchester with the biggest derby Andover Town v Winchester drawing a Wessex Premier highest gate of 228, with the return fixture at Winchester also pulling in a respectable 191 spectators.
Petersfield have taken part in two derbies pulling in 200, at home to Winchester City and away to Moneyfields in what I like to call the A272 and A3 derbies.
One interesting point I noticed is that Newport IOW tended to attract bigger gates against teams based in coastal settlements. The attendance at St Georges Park against Pompey-based Moneyfields was 186, possibly swelled by a few away fans who simply hopped on a ferry (or hovercraft) to enjoy a nice day-trip.
Clubs on the geographic periphery of the league however, face something a disadvantage compared to those clubs which can be found in clusters. Bemerton Heath Harlequins for instance have no real local derby fixture, with nearby clubs Downton and Laverstock & Ford both being in Division One.
In addition to this I looked at each team’s away attendance. In the Premier Division Winchester with an average of 118, Petersfield on 92 and Moneyfields with 90 enjoyed the biggest crowds on the road. Interestingly Blackfield and Langley have managed to average far more away from home, 89, than the 56 who usually turn up to watch them at Gang Warily. The reverse is true of Newport IOW who despite averaging 120 at home, only manage 69 away, and which I put down to the difficulty and expense Newport fans would have getting to and from places like Verwood, Petersfield and Whitchurch.
As an extra exercise I decided to take the away match day attendances for each team and compare these against the season-so-far average for the home side. I then averaged this out, the idea being to give an indication of how many extra spectators above (or below) the ‘usual’ baseline turned out for each away team.
The results from this show that on their travels Winchester City, on average, attracted 46 more spectators than could usually be expected at a typical game. This was much higher than joint second placed Petersfield Town and Moneyfields who both, on average, attracted 18 more spectators than could be expected.
There are two explanations for this 1.) That more people come out to watch top teams, or 2.) Winchester, Petersfield and Moneyfields have the biggest travelling support which swells attendances at whichever club is hosting them. A third explanation (and in my view the most likely) is that it is in fact a bit of both – from the figures though it is impossible to separate home from away, or even neutral spectators.
Cowes Sports top Division One with an average attendance of 90. This is particularly impressive and would put them in fifth place in the Premier Division, just ahead of Petersfield Town. Cowes Sports are also still due to host an all-Cowes derby against East Cowes Vics so their final average could well go up, provided this fixture doesn’t for whatever reason end up being played on a rainy mid-week.
In 5th place in the League and their Cowes brethren the Vics lying in bottom place Sports can boast of being the islands second team, behind Newport. As we have seen there is a suggestion that Newport do not have much in the way of travelling support, which may be due to logistics – could it be that Cowes Sports are the chief beneficiaries when Newport are off playing in the more far-flung parts of the region?
One of the most interesting points is the difference between Team Solent’s home and away average attendances. So far Solent have attracted just 24 people, on average, to their Test Park base. This figure is the second worst in the league, behind US Portsmouth – a ground to which access involves passing a naval-base checkpoint. Both, of course, experience such attendances as they are sides which are backed by institutions, rather than a local support-base, but those living nearby the Solent ground may be missing something as league-leaders Solent are the biggest draw on the road, averaging 55 per game, just in front of Laverstock & Ford’s 52.
In general the division one clubs tend to be located in the far-flung fringes of the region, such as Pewsey Vale which lies roughly between Salisbury and Swindon. A consequence of this is that true derby games are fewer in number, but. there are still a number of derbies of note in Division One. The biggest so far being the Salisbury-area derby between Downton and Laverstock & Ford which drew a crowd of 140
In second place, with a crowd of 129 is the Cowes Derby. This is probably made more interesting by the fact that Cowes is divided in two by the river Medina and connected only by a chain-ferry. Cowes Sports hail from West Cowes, while the Vics sit on a hill in East Cowes.
Third place is awarded to Cowes Sports v New Milton Town. It’s always difficult to say what constitutes a derby, but this one just creeps in due to the proximity of New Milton to the island and to ferry services; In any case its tempting to suppose the crowd of 110 may well have been swelled by a few day-trippers.
This concludes the round up which I hope you’ve enjoyed. I’m hoping the league will be kind enough to give me the figures again at the end of the season, so if there’s enough interest I can do this again.